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YPO: The First 50 Years

YPO: The First Fifty Years

The Story of the Young Presidents' Organization

by Pat McNees

“A fascinating book that tells the story of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). It started when Ray Hickok, just 27 and having returned from World War II, had to take over a family business when his father died. He brought together other young men like himself and the rest is history — told by a skilled writer about those turbulent times that set in place this nation’s economic dominance. Members and former members (you’re out when you hit age 50) will particularly enjoy this book. Among the YPO members were people like Lloyd Bentsen, Bo Callaway, J.B. Fuqua, Sir John Templeton, Robert and Lawrence Tisch, and many others who became legendary business leaders.”
— reviewer Alan Caruba

This is the real McCoy — history as it should be written, from the voices of the people who took part in it. Pat McNees did a bang-up job of interviewing and a masterful job telling YPO’s story. The world is full of people who wished they’d gotten answers to all their questions while the people who had the answers were still alive, and Pat McNees did just that. She set the record straight — this is “virtual reality” in the old-fashioned sense — and some of the people whose memories she taped aren’t alive anymore. This is an authentic and compelling narrative history, from the horses’ mouths. I stayed up late, reading it cover to cover.”
— David Ringo, an early officer and director of YPO

YPO "could have fallen totally apart — there were some pretty big egos — but it went the other way," said its founder decades later. Roughly a third of the members inherited their businesses, a third were entrepreneurs, and a third were professional managers. One member's weakness was another member's strength; they learned from exchanging ideas and experiences.

It wasn't easy getting consensus in a group of "all chiefs and no Indians." YPO was headed toward becoming an exclusive club, for example, when its members voted to make it an educational organization instead. And when rapid growth threatened the frank and easy friendship and idea exchange so important to YPO's members, a small band of members introduced Forum -- the small-group meeting that was part support group and part personal board of directors -- and YPO returned to its roots.

YPO abandoned its original political agenda. "The idea of several thousand YPOers even agreeing upon the difference between liquids and solids is remote," said one YPO president, "and the idea of them all getting behind any given movement is absurd."

The world business community did not greet YPO with open arms, and for two decades the feeling was mutual. How YPO changed from a North American organization into an international organization with a North American region is only part of this compelling story of growth, transformation, and international business relationships.

This warts-and-all account of YPO’s first 50 years —especially its formative and often turbulent first 25 years — provides fascinating insights into a highly influential international organization of young corporate presidents that has traditionally resisted publicity. The 8,000 members of YPO today generate a cumulative $1.3 trillion annually, reports the Washington Post, and that’s not counting the many thousands of alumni who are kicked out when they turn 50.

Quotes from the book itself:

“John Rollins got up and said, ‘I was a cotton picker and a boilermaker. The one thing that helped me a lot was to learn how to separate the fundamental from the incidental.’” — David Schine

“Ray Hickok and Phil Schuyler were on a horse that was riding away with them and it was all they could do to stay on the horse....The learning and educational phase of YPO really came about by palace revolution. Some of us took the position that YPO had to have a purpose higher than just being another ‘drinking and chowder club.’”—David Ringo

“Becoming a young president was not proof of wealth. A million in sales could be a long, long way from a million in income.”

“‘I asked Bob Tisch, “How do you finance something like that?’ and he said, ‘Write a check.’ They were operating on a different level.” —John Foskett

“YPO was a fraternal order of lonelies at the top. They often found it difficult to discuss problems openly and productively with their friends, relatives, employees, and directors.”

“YPO started out with the idea that the United States was a missionary for good management and free enterprise. More recently, the idea is that we live in a global economy and must adapt to it.”

“I could bring problems to my Presidents’ Forum that I could never discuss with my board of directors or with anyone in my management teams.”

Basically Forum was like having a group of eleven very smart friends help you think things through.

On YPO's annual Harvard seminar: "The third day of the seminar, he went back to his room in Hamilton Hall, closed the door, and wept. He realized he'd been using his guts instead of his head to run the business."

On YPO's women: "Far from holding the men back, the women — initially the wives — were viewed as raising the men up. The intellectual capacity of the organization was with the women, said one guest speaker; the challenge would be to interest more of the presidents in subjects other than the how-to's of business. In 1972, only four women were members; now there are many more."

From YPO's lullaby: "Buy low, sell high."

On the typical YPOer: "Young presidents bridle at supervision. Challenges stimulate them; obstacles are the roughage in their daily diets. Restless, they are unsuited for detailed or routine work and find it hard to sit still for long. Their idea of relaxing is often to attend a YPO 'university' where an expert can tell them to relax more."

Among YPOers who became active in U.S. politics, with varying degrees of success, were: Lloyd Bentsen, Bo Callaway, Eddie Chiles, Steve Forbes, J.B. Fuqua, Roy Goodman, Claude Kirk, John Rollins, Joel Schiavone, Dick Schneller, Milton S. Shapp, Gordon Smith, and Dick Snelling. In addition, Winton “Red” Blount, Bob Tisch, and Tony Frank all served as U.S. Postmaster General.